Nationals Baseball: Lenticular Strasburg

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lenticular Strasburg

Type in "Strasburg" in google right now and the news for the name pops out three articles.
#1  "Arroyo outpitches Strasburg, D-Backs top Nationals"
#2  "Strasburg good, Arroyo better in Nationals' loss"
#3  "Stephen Strasburg makes two key mistakes in Nationals ..."

Guess which one is from the local paper? 

Looking from the outside-in Strasburg is a successful very good pitcher. He's capable of having special nights and there is still a bit of an aura around him, thanks to the fact he still strikes people out and his peripheral stats look good, but it's not news if he gives up 3 runs.  

Looking from the inside-out Strasburg is a failed great pitcher. The special nights only highlight the kind of pitcher he has the talent to be, and giving up 3 runs is just another outing that shows he's not living up to that potential. 

Unfair? Completely and not at all. 

It's completely unfair in the sense that he is being compared to a standard that is near impossible to reach. Set the bar that high and he's set up to disappoint.

It's not at all unfair because this is baseball and this is the scrutiny talented players have to go through. That "the feelings of the fans should match in direction and intensity the production output a player brings to the team" is not something in a contract.

If the Nats were 4 games up as of today, it probably wouldn't matter. If the Nats had made the WS last year, it probably wouldn't matter. 

Neither of those things happened. 

The Nats fans are on the cusp of desperation. Failure to make the playoffs this season would likely start an implosion of sorts, fair or not. The anger is going to be directed at anyone not matching where fans think they should be; where they were told these guys should be. 

Strasburg should be a Top 5 pitcher. Bryce should be a Top 5 player. They are the biggest targets and if they don't come close to those levels, they will receive the biggest share of criticism if/when the Nats fail. Werth (biggest contract. most in your face) is out on that limb. Fister (savior-esque 4th starter) could hear it. So will anyone that outright crashes and burns. (why is my head involuntarily turning toward Denard Span?). It's not fair and it is.

Don't confuse how the game works with how fandom works. Strasburg is very good. He'll get paid very well for being very good. That's how the game works.  Strasburg is not great. He'll get criticized for not being great because that was the expectation set for his time with this franchise. That's how fandom works (for some-most).

Outside a few idiot wackos who might scream "TRADE HIM!!! SHOULD HAVE KEPT LOMBO INSTEAD!!" the Strasburg debate is one of at what level a "could be great" player deserves what type criticism.  Does he deserve to be called out  whenever he fails to put up a certain level of great performances? Or is it when he stops being a really helpful productive team member?

It's not a debate about Strasburg's actual performance, he is what he is, it's a debate about how to respond to it. From the outside, where expectations for Strasburg are much more tempered by a history of failed pitching prospects and his near immediate TJ injury, the view is more consistent and lenient*. From the inside, where expectations are rarely managed as well (SKOLE IS GOING TO TAKE OVER FOR LAROCHE!!!), the view are all over the place. But saying someone is wrong for getting on Strasburg** (or not) is like saying someone is "not a true fan". There isn't a right time to be disappointed.

*Bryce though did not have expecations managed on any level. Which is why you see wildly different takes on him all over the place.

** Now someone can be wrong for saying he stinks, but don't confuse an outburst with an outlook. If someone really thinks Strasburg is bad, he's wrong. If he screams for a minute because he gave up an ill-timedHR, he's just angry.


Brad said...

One bone to pick, the screeching fans use the grammatical variant "SHOULD OF KEPT LOMBO." Otherwise, spot on.

cass said...

I've been accused of being a biased Strasburg fan by those who consume the local media whenever I say he did okay after a start like last night. This stuff seems to especially influence those without a ton of baseball knowledge and experience.

I bet some people forget he gave up some runs in his debut. If he had that same start now, people probably would say the Nats won in spite of his poor pitching.

"He gave up two runs and put the team behind. Good thing the hitters bailed him out. He needs to stop throwing so many strikeouts and get more contact so he can go more than seven innings."

Clip&Store said...

I think its also the fact that he seems to be regressing over time. For example his rookie year before surgery he just seemed more dominant. His stuff was indeed more dominant, and his command appeared better. Now he just sees all over the place. He had better peripherals back then too.

Will said...

I understand fans could be upset with Stras. Unfortunately, there is not much he can when the team scores 1 run on 7 hits. Yes, he gave up 3 earned. Yes he missed a safety squeeze (and who's to say that Tyler Moore wouldn't have been thrown out anyway . . .)

My sense watching Stras in '14 is that more often than not when he pitches he's been good enough for the team to win. Which is what a #1 SP is supposed to do.

I looked at Stras' fielding independent pitching (FIP) and expected (x) FIP are both 2.36. That's good for 5th in baseball as of 5/14/14. He's been pretty darn good this year. The other guys haven't as sharp when he pitches.

Not sure what people expect.

I have more concerns with the lack of overall execution by the team - if they don't hit 2-3 home runs, they have a hard time scoring more than 4+ runs consistently.

Matt Williams can talk about small ball all he wants, but these guys are who they are - big swingers.

Will said...

Sorry to post again, but I just saw that BABIP on Stras is .371. That's abnormally high which suggests that his numbers will improve as the season wears on.

Chaz R said...

Strasburg, much like most of the rest of the Nats, is off to a slow start. He's largely doing fine, not great, but fine. He could be on the cusp of having a great season, or he could be just fine. Just like the Nats team... we'll all be along for the ride.

Wally said...

Stras has a bit of the AJ Burnett feel to him. Apparently dominating stuff but never quite gets the performance that most fans think he should, which causes those same fans to feel that he is less than he actually is.

I have been a big Stras fan, and still am. But I also have seen him as a #1 who just needed the innings to prove it and I have to admit, I am rethinking that a little bit. I generally think that, using whatever measures are important to you, there really should only be about 10 true #1s. And there are probably 10 SPs I would take over him: Hernandez, Verlander, Darvish, Wainright, Scherzer, Lee, Price, Lester, just off the top of my head before I'd even look at the leaderboards. So maybe he is in the back end, but probably not.

But he is having his best statistical year, slightly ahead of his WAR pace from 2012. Whether you agree with that depends on how you feel about the translation from fancy stats to traditional ones (is it random variations or specific skills, like the babip point mentioned). But there shouldn't be grumbling about last night's game. Of course we all wanted him to shut out AZ, but if you score only 1 run in Az, you will lose 99 out of 100. He does seem like the main scapegoat for the team overall underperforming expectations. Hard to blame the injured guys too much, so who is left?

Jay said...

I think the problem is expectations. You see a guy like Kershaw beat the Nats pretty much single-handed. Of course, Kershaw's the best pitcher on the planet. Expectations for Strasburg have been and still are for him to be like Kershaw, Verlander and those guys. He was called a "once in a generation" talent. He was called the "best pitching prospect to come out of the draft". That is why his agent is Scott Boras. The reality is that he is not those guys. He might develop into one, but he is not now.

Other than his rookie year, I don't remember a time when Stras was on the mound that I was felt it didn't matter what the other team did he was going to dominate them. He is now no longer even the best pitcher in the division, and maybe not even on his own team. Prior to surgery, Matt Harvey was better, Jose Fernandez was better. Some argue that Jordan Zimmermann is better. All of that does not equal expectations.

I did want to ask everyone's opinion on the "hold down the fort" mentality that the Nats seem to have now adopted. Werth mentioned last night that they needed to "keep their head above water until the guys get back". This worries me a great deal. Ramos is back. Fister is back. Zimmerman is out, but Espinosa (who pretty much took over for him) leads the team in HR. They are pretty much down Harper and LaRoche. That shouldn't be the end of the world. This team always seem to have excuses about not winning. 2 pitches last night. Soriano shouldn't have cut the throw off. Clippard is good against lefties. We're too injured. If they keep waiting for everyone to get healthy and "go on a run" it'll be like last year and be too late. They need to take advantage of the next two weeks.

Nick said...

Strasburg's BABIP against each season of his career:

Also, his Ks/9 are up (and K% too, in case you think the K/9 increase is simply a function of facing more batters) from 2013/12/11 while his walks are (slightly) down. His FIP and xFIP are an identical and tiny 2.36 in 2014. Stras IS great, and blaming him just doesn't make sense, whether it's in the context of last night's game, or over the course of the past few seasons. Let's complain about pretty much everything else (defense, injuries, awful hitting, sketchy bench) before we complain about Strasburg. Guy is an absolute ace.

Nick said...

To Jay's point, I don't think it's correct to say that Kershaw beat us single-handedly. The defense still had to make plays (albeit less than if a guy like Roark were pitching), and the offense still had to put runs together. Even when a team has a player as dominant as Kershaw, he still cannot win single-handedly. Of course Kershaw tips the scales pretty heavily on days he pitches, but it's way too easy to point to one start and anecdotally say "he single-handedly beat team X" simply because he pitched 7 strong innings. There is so much else going on within the game that would make that claim untrue.

Also, sure, Strasburg might not have been the best pitcher in the division the past few years, but what does that matter? Harvey was arguably the second best pitcher in all of MLB before he went down, and Fernandez was probably number 1 before he went down. I think you could make a very strong argument that Stras is a top 10 SP right now (at the very least top 20).

And to Clip above, how were Strasburg's peripherals better before? Looking through his numbers, I don't see how you can make that argument. His velocity is down, but his peripherals have remained strong.

My issue is that too many people are overreacting to what has been a very strong start for Stras. If he had this unlucky BABIP phase in the middle of the season as opposed to beginning, would this even be a story?

Clip&Store said...

I believe his HR rate was more unlucky, along with inducing weaker contact overall. But correct me if i'm wrong though, that was from a little while ago last time i checked.

Nick said...

I guess his FIP/xFIP was higher in 2012/2013 compared to 2010/2011, but 2011 was a very small sample (and 2010 was too). Last year was the first time his K/9 dipped below 10 and his walks bumped up a bit. Even in 2012 his FIP and xFIP were below 3. It's almost unreal to consider those peripherals subpar. Just because he seemed more dominant in 2010 doesn't mean that he still isn't dominant right now. His swinging strike % is higher thus far in 2014 (SSS I know) than it has been in any season of his career.

Nattydread said...

1. I'm rooting for Strasburg to live up to his potential. Its still the first third of his career.

2. I'm very glad John Lannan isn't the Nats' ace any more.

Brian and Holli Jones said...

You're blaming Strassburg when you should be looking at the defense. The Nats defense is really bad. Over a run bad in Strass' starts! (FIP 2.36 ERA 3.48, fangraphs data) Span is the only one Nat regular that is even average defensively for his position so far this season and he is killing the team with his bat!
Note: FIP approximates as closely as is possible what a pitchers era would be if the players behind him were average defensively.

EFR said...

How about this for an analogy: posted an article today discussing the diminishing role of running backs in the NFL, as exemplified by the recent drafts, given their shorter shelf life and the game's move to a passing heavy offense.

Now, Fernandez is out for the year. Harvey and the Braves arms are out with surgery. Our arms have had Tommy John.

Is MLB moving this way for pitching? Thats not to say that every big time pitcher has had the surgery, but it looks like a pitcher could be as injury-prone as your Adrian Peterson.

I'm not completely saying that a pitcher = RB, but that the RB position was once thought just as valuable as your SP. It could be possible to have a staff of #3s - just like football teams run a RB by committee. Which brings us to the franchise QB/Slugger - that may be more irreplaceable than SPs. Something to think about when contract talks start.

As the damn radio ads say, just a thought, not a sermon.

And for the record, I hope we resign all of them. The Lerners are damn billionaires and the Silver Line is only adding to their Tysons' dough.

Anonymous said...

If you think the silver line is going to be up and running by the end of this year you are wildly optimistic.

JWLumley said...

Here's one thing I believe could be the case, but not an opinion anyone should hold too firmly because they're not in the Nats clubhouse: maybe it's McCatty. The Nats pitching staff is super talented and has great stuff, the Nats pitching staff also has a tendency to not pick teammates up after errors, the Nats pitching staff has a tendency to overthrow the ball in big situations (see: Strasburg v. Goldschmidt), the Nats staff, despite great stuff, seems to give the other team pretty comfortable AB's. They also don't change sight-lines particularly well (that is move the ball up and down, as opposed to just inside and out), not to mention there's the ridiculous pitch to contact philosophy of McCatty (Here's a pro-tip Steve, have you seen the Nats defense lately, having the other team hit the ball might not be the best idea, even when not considering that stupid thing called math). Great pitching coaches seem to always be resurrecting someones career, they turn the Kyle Lohse's and Ryan Vogelsong's of the world into big league pitchers who flash dominance. Steve McCatty would seem to have been dealt a better hand than any of them, but instead of harnessing that talent it's erratic. And it's not just Strasburg, same could be said for Gio or NN as well as Storen and Detwiler. I think the Nationals have put together much better AB's since Rick Eckstein was let go and perhaps McCatty should follow him.

Kenny B. said...

Re: McCatty

I think I agree. "Pitch to contact" is a great philosophy for certain pitchers, but I think a team philosophy like that just doesn't make sense. Different pitchers are different. Both Stras and Gio seem to me like they're at their best when they're striking guys out. Also, as mentioned, the defense sucks. If the result is that you get fewer innings out of guys, so be it, but the other team has fewer scoring opportunities. I'm never a fan of trying to fit everyone into the same mold. You'll still get a lot of innings out of your other, more contact-y guys, so your bullpen won't be completely worn out every day. Besides, the Nats bullpen is a strength. If you get 6 solid innings of scoreless ball out of Stras and Gio with a bunch of Ks, the bullpen can handle the last 3 pretty well as the team starts scoring in later innings and everybody gets psyched up.

Just my two cents. I'm no pitching expert, but I hate to think Strasburg can so consistently hit double digit Ks and be told by McCatty that he's not doing what he's supposed to do.

Anonymous said...


I have to disagree with how people view Strasburg NOW vs. his debut. That night, personally was one of the most fun nights of baseball I've ever seen. Much of it had to do with all the hype surrounding him before that game and he more than lived up to it. But more importantly, watch the video of his debut. Whether is was Pudge Rodriguez catching him, I dont know, but he looks like an entirely different pitcher now...for the worse. Throwing 100mph, hitting spots all day long, throwing his curve with much better control and bite, I could go on and on.

Perhaps (and most likely) its because of the surgery, but this guy is barely a shell of what he was back then. He was unreal, which is why people freak out over a 3 run 1st inning, "the Strasburg of old wouldn't do that..." All I'm saying is watch the video and it would surprise you that you are watching that same kid today

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